It’s playoff time, which means the overall amount of NBA coverage ramps up a few degrees, even for “lowly” 7th seeds like the Spurs. And I say lowly because apparently that is the view some of the media has taken of the Spurs. I know, the Spurs are expected to go out in the first round, but so far I’ve seen at least three examples of the what I see as the media truly not paying attention to what the Spurs did this season, and in makes my skin crawl.
Starting with possibly the most innocent one: ESPN’s “Everything to know” piece about each first round series and team. For the most part, it’s very well written. Each team gets a little summary, why they’re dangerous, a big stat of note, a player to watch, etc. However, what caught my eye on the Spurs’ summary was the “season in a single game” segment. The game that apparently defines the 2018-19 Spurs? Their 98-93 home loss to the Bulls on Dec. 15, which came in the midst of their resurgent 14-4 stretch after a rough start and got their season back on track.
Even battier than the winged mammals that swoop to the AT&T Center floor from time to time is San Antonio’s inability to close games. A Dec. 15 loss at home to the Bulls, in which the Spurs blew a 21-point lead in the second half, made it clear that this is no longer the San Antonio squad known for out-executing less experienced opponents down the stretch. Even internally, the Spurs admit that they can no longer rely on their “corporate knowledge” in the clutch situations that they once relished.
I get it: the Spurs were maddeningly inconsistent against lesser teams this season, and it was something that was harped about plenty here as well. That being said, that game — the only game all season in which they blew a 20-point lead — is the game that defines who the Spurs are this season? That just doesn’t seem right, especially for a playoff team. They’re also one of just four teams who were “defined” by a loss on this list, but the others were either because a key injury occurred or it was an example of how they could hang with better teams. For some reason, the 48-34 Spurs can only be seen in the negative.
It just feels odd to take what is arguably the worst of loss of the season for a playoff team that otherwise exceeded exceptions and define them by it. Maybe this is just because I’m more of an optimist and have also seen the internal struggles and triumphs of these Spurs more than some random media members who just see the Spurs as not being as powerful as they once were, but the game I would pick to define them this season would be their March 4 104-103 home win against the Nuggets, and not just because they are our first round opponent.
This was a game where both teams had everyone available, and the Spurs were still finding their footing again after a disastrous Rodeo Road Trip. It was a back and fourth game, inconsistent like these Spurs as they had to hold off a late rally despite leading the entire game, but they persevered and found a way to get it done, just like they have all season. That’s who these Spurs are: inconsistent but resilient and unflappable.
Next on today’s media hit job, we have Bleacher Report (shocking, I know) and their Top 50 Players of the 2019 Playoffs. While DeMar DeRozan at 37th, among the likes of Marc Gasol, Malcom Brogdon, etc. seems a bit low, I won’t argue it too much because we’ve only had him for one season, and it was an up and down one for him. However, I am going to argue hard about LaMarcus Aldridge’s placement of 27th, and not just because I don’t believe there are that many players who are better than him the playoffs. It’s also about who comes ahead of him. First, here is his summary:
LaMarcus Aldridge is the Mike Conley of big men, only with actual All-Star recognition. He’s steady to the point of being taken for granted.
This year didn’t start so hot for LMA. Establishing himself alongside DeMar DeRozan took time, and his shooting splits didn’t turn the corner for more than a month. That crisis of fit has long since subsided.
Aldridge is averaging 22.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting a whopping 55.3 percent on twos since his 14-of-25 detonation against Indiana in late November. His shot difficulty is the same. More than 60 percent of his two-point attempts come as contested and tightly contested opportunities, of which he’s hitting 55.9 percent during this most-of-the-season stretch.
Given DeRozan’s checkered postseason resume, Aldridge’s unvarying offense is crucial. He is the most important Spur.
Great. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s look at who is ahead of him, particularly players at the same position. First, Draymond Green is 20th. Yes, the same hothead who had his worst season since his sophomore year in the league and if anything brought the Warriors down a notch instead of lifting his team. Just look at these numbers. Yuck. He is not better than Aldridge or more important to his team at this point.
After that, probably the biggest argument lies with Al Horford at 15th. He may be described as the “beating heart” of an otherwise tumultuous Celtics team and the person who holds them together, but if that is the case where is Derrick White on this list? It’s arguable that the same could be said of him, that he is what makes these Spurs click, and if we’re being honest his numbers aren’t that different than Horford’s.
Of course, when it comes to rankings, other factors need to be taken into account, so how are these rankings defined? Back to the intro page:
Regular-season performances shape this pecking order more than anything else. Some projection is stirred in for good measure. We’re evaluating these players as if we want to acquire them for the postseason. This takes into account injuries, current workload, lineup forecasts, team situations and anything else that applies.
I get that the Warriors have a much higher playoff projection that the Spurs, but the Celtics aren’t much better off, and it specifically says this is based on the regular season more than anything. So ignoring the fact that that Aldridge had a way better regular season than either of those guys, you’re also telling me if you could acquire any of them today, you would take Horford or Green over Aldridge at this point? I just find that hard to believe, and BR is guilty of doing exactly what they accuse others of: taking him for granted.
Finally, probably the person that got under my skin more than anyone yesterday was Nate Duncan, host of the Dunc’d On Basketball NBA Podcast and salary cap expert for The Athletic. Apparently, he is also a Gregg Popovich hater. On his most recent podcast, he called Pop overrated as a playoff coach. When the responses on Twitter came swift and fast (and not just from Spurs fans), he tried to defend his stance.
Spurs have been upset far more than they've done the upsetting in the playoffs. Lost as favorites in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2015 (when he benched Kawhi in the 3rd Q of Game 7 for giving up a backdoor), 2016. One of greatest coaches ever, but hasn't been amazing in playoffs https://t.co/C9ehv1fJmR— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 11, 2019
That explanation didn’t sit well either. It’s as if he’s ignoring that every team and coach gets upset in the playoffs, all the times the Spurs upset someone else (which included a few of their championships), and his overall success. He tried hitting back on Twitter a few times.
actually yours is a terrible take. That's 2 vs the many examples I cited. Thus being upset more than doing the upsetting.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 11, 2019
my original point which has been lost is that he isn't some playoff genius who makes the Spurs incredibly dangerous as an underdog. I don't think there's really any evidence for that.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 11, 2019
Hmm, maybe there’s not much evidence for that because the Spurs haven’t usually been the underdog, but they’ve done their fair share of “upsetting” that Mr. Duncan here just doesn’t want to admit. He kept on going back in forth on Twitter with multiple people, failing to acknowledge any point that Pop is in fact a good playoff coach before finally giving in a bit, even possibly admitting his initial wording was off.
I think that's right. The point isn't that he's been bad in the playoffs, it's that this common "watch out for the Spurs, they'll upset you" idea hasn't proved correct. https://t.co/gTBNBnvJu5— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 11, 2019
So ultimately his point wasn’t that Pop isn’t a good playoff coach, which is what all his arguing indicated, just that there’s a myth that he can lead the Spurs to an upset because he’s been upset more often. But that’s ignoring the fact that proportionately, by often leading the Spurs to higher seeds, there’s just a much bigger sample size for them to be upset than being the ones who upset someone else. Also, he undermines himself with his own admission that Pop is a good regular season coach, and by leading the Spurs so well that they “overachieved” in the regular season, they were in position to be “upset” by more talented teams who merely lollygagged until the playoffs but had what it took to beat them.
The lesson here is when you take an all-time great and try to nitpick a few negatives out of an overwhelming amount of positives, it can backfire quickly. Here’s to hoping the Spurs upset the Nuggets if for no other reason to create a smirking Pop “how do you like me now?” GIF to send right back to this guy.